TORONTO, March 1 (Reuters) - With few copper assets available for acquisition, First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO) is looking to add to its growing nickel asset base and sees plenty of available targets, the Canadian miner said on Monday.
First Quantum recently closed its acquisition of the Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Australia from BHP Billiton (BLT.L) and said in December it plans to build the Kevitsa nickel and copper mine in Finland. These moves will turn the mid-tier copper miner into a notable nickel producer over the next few years.
And more deals could be on the way, First Quantum President Clive Newall said at a mining conference in Florida, due to number of attractive nickel assets on the block.
"If we could continue to find copper ore bodies we'd do that, because we are the most bullish about copper of any commodity, but so's everybody else, so everybody's competing for the same thing," he said.
"So we're looking for opportunities where we can produce other... base metals at low costs, and there are a number of nickel projects that fit that bill right now."
While nickel prices have more than doubled from the three-year lows hit in late 2008, analysts still see a glut of the metal on the market. This has prompted some companies to put projects on hold and others -- BHP, notably -- to sell off assets.
Vancouver-based First Quantum currently produces from three mines in central and west Africa, and expects to be producing about 500,000 tonnes of copper a year by 2011.
However, that production growth profile could change due to the suspension of the company's Kolwezi copper tailings project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The DRC government pulled the permit for the project last year and First Quantum, which holds a 65 percent stake in the $550 million project, is now seeking international arbitration.
Kolwezi is 75-percent built and was to have come online this May. The suspension has not yet had a large impact on the production timeline as construction typically comes to a halt during the summer rainy season.
But Newall said a delay past April could force First Quantum to alter the timeline.
"It's a very serious situation," he said.
"We are continuing to seek a solution, but the arbitration will take its course."
The company's shares fell by C$1.65 to C$80.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday.